While many people understand it's best to follow a healthy lifestyle, very few Americans do so. As of 2006, only 8 percent of Americans were following a healthy lifestyle, according to a study published in 2009 in "The American Journal of Medicine." Making healthy lifestyle changes can lower your risk for a variety of health problems and improve your quality of life.
What Is a Healthy Lifestyle?
A healthy lifestyle involves proper nutrition, exercising regularly, not smoking, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink and maintaining a healthy weight. Being healthy also means taking the appropriate preventative measures, such as buckling up whenever you get in a car, getting your yearly physical and any recommended medical tests and immunizations at the doctor's office and practicing safe sex.
Benefits of a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is one of the main ways you can lower your risk for cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to the World Health Organization. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Eat more fruits and vegetables, choose whole grains rather than refined grains and stick to lean protein sources and low-fat dairy. Limit the amount of salt, added sugar, cholesterol, saturated and trans fat that you consume.
Benefits of Exercise
Not being physically active is one of the main causes of obesity, and exercising helps lower your risk for heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and arthritis as well. While even exercising at a moderate intensity for 150 minutes per week lowers your risk of dying early, exercising at least 7 hours per week can lower your risk of dying early by 40 percent compared to people who exercise 30 minutes or less per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not using tobacco will lower your risk for an early death. Smoking was responsible for 20 percent of the preventable deaths in the United States in 2006, making it one of the factors that most increases your risk for preventable death, along with high blood pressure, which was also responsible for approximately 20 percent of preventable deaths, according to a study published in "PLOS Medicine" in 2009.
Even if you haven't been following the healthiest lifestyle, making changes now can really make a difference to your health. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables per day can help you cut your colon cancer risk by up to 50 percent, and exercising at least 30 minutes per day can do the same for your heart disease risk, according to the World Health Organization. Gradually make changes toward a more healthy lifestyle, rather than trying to change everything at once.
- World Health Organization: Unhealthy Diets and Physical Inactivity
- World Health Organization: Do Lifestyle Changes Improve Health?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity and Health
- Family Doctor: Preventive Services for Healthy Living
- PLOS Medicine: The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors
- American Journal of Medicine: Adherence to Healthy Lifestyle Habits in US Adults, 1988-2006
- Archives of Internal Medicine: Long Term Effects of a Lifestyle Intervention on Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes: Four Year Results of the Look AHEAD Trial
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.